News of the World phone bugging claim
Rupert Murdoch's News Group paid victims £1m out of court to keep the practice quiet, says the Guardian
The Metropolitan Police are to investigate a claim made by the Guardian today that the News of the World has systematically hacked into the mobile phone messages of public figures to get illegal access to confidential information including tax records, bank statements and itemised phone bills.
The veteran investigative journalist Nick Davies further claims that Rupert Murdoch's News Group, which owns the Sunday tabloid, has paid more than £1m to three victims to settle lawsuits that would have exposed the practice.
Assistant Commissioner John Yates - or Yates of the Yard as he's known in Westminster after the long cash for honours inquiry in 2006-07 - is to "establish the facts of the case" immediately and report back to Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson.
Among the thousands of politicians, footballers and celebrities said to have been targeted by the mobile phone hacking are the former deputy prime minister John Prescott, the former culture secretary Tessa Jowell, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association Gordon Taylor, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson and the supermodel Elle MacPherson.
Prescott told the BBC he would be contacting the police to ask if his phone had indeed been tapped, why was he not informed and why no action was taken.
According to the Guardian report, Andy Coulson, the Tories' director of communications is implicated because he worked for the Dirty Digger - one of Murdoch's earliest nicknames - as deputy editor and then editor of the News of the World when reporters were involved with private investigators conducting phone taps. There were allegedly regular purchases of information gained by hacking into celebrities' voicemail and by so called 'blagging' - telephoning service companies and pretending to be someone else to gain personal information.
Coulson resigned as editor in 2007 when he took responsibility for the paper's royal correspondent Clive Goodman tapping into the voicemail messages of royal staff. But he claimed categorically not to have known about the phone tapping and said Goodman was a one-off "rogue reporter".
As The First Post's Westminster Mole reports today, pressure is building on David Cameron and Coulson to explain themselves in the light of the Guardian's allegations.
Davies's report stems from Clive Goodman's court hearing in January 2007 when he was jailed for the phone tapping under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Sources have told Davies that in the course of the police investigation into Coulson's activities they found evidence of "two or three thousand" voicemails being hacked into by private investigators on behalf of the News of the World.
A private investigator called Glenn Mulcaire was also jailed in January 2007. One of the phones he admitted hacking into was that of Gordon Taylor who later sued News Group on the basis that the newspaper group must have known about the phone taps.
As a result, says Davies, News Group eventually settled out of court and paid a total of £700,000 to Taylor on the condition that he signed a gagging clause to prevent him speaking about the case.
Davies has seen official police documents which show that Mulcaire hacked into the mobile phones of at least two other football figures on behalf of the News of the World. Their complaints were also settled out of court, with more than £300,000 being paid in damages and costs on condition that they too signed gagging clauses.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Andrew Neil, broadcaster and former editor of the Sunday Times said Davies's report was "one of the most significant media stories of modern times... It suggests that rather than being a one-off journalist or rogue private investigator, it was systemic throughout the News of the World, and to a lesser extent the Sun. Particularly in the News of the World, this was a newsroom out of control."
Charles Clarke, former Home Secretary, said the allegations were "sensational". He went on: "If they are true, the behaviour of News International and some of its senior executives is disappointing, immoral and probably illegal."
Henry Porter, the Guardian: "The public needs to know to what extent Murdoch's papers indulge in this illegal activity: it is a legitimate matter of public interest, the very thing cited by the NoW as it pursues people such as Max Mosley, whom they bugged and filmed in a sado-masochistic sex session."
Alastair Campbell, former director of communications for Tony Blair: "So David Cameron has pronounced that Andy Coulson is safe in his job. Assuming Mr Cameron does the basics of leadership, that means he has satisfied himself that his communications director did nothing improper or illegal, nor condoned, used or benefited from anything improper or illegal, in his time as editor of the News of the World. He has also satisfied himself that nothing is likely to emerge to cast doubt on that judgement. That is a big call to have made." ·
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